This NBA season has produced many surprises. The mid-season capitulation of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Kawhi Leonard fiasco with the ever stable San Antonio Spurs and the success and disappointment of the super teams formed in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Houston.
However, as we look to the postseason, key injuries are on the lips of many NBA analysts. The regular season is a cruel mistress whose strain affects even the hardiest players and succumbs them to injury. To name a few, DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Mike Conley and Kristaps Porzingis have all been ruled out for the season with some only playing a single game.
Even at this late stage, there are key injuries that could change the course of a series going into the playoffs. In this article, we will look at some of those injuries to keep an eye on with some status’ more ambiguous than others.
Expected return: 14th April
Injury: Sprained MCL (Knee)
Two time MVP Steph Curry has suffered a string of sprains this season with a current MCL sprain that will probably keep him out of action until the second round depending on who you speak to. His presence is not crucial for the last few games of the regular season but his presence will be key in the playoffs. A Steph-less Warriors team is still menacingly lethal and is expected to soar through the opening rounds but without their captain, they may end up playing more games than they would have liked.
Postulate that the Golden State Warriors meet the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round. If Jimmy Butler, who is a game-time decision, can get back to match fitness by the first round, the Timberwolves could cause the Warriors some matchup problems. Butler-Thompson, Wiggins-Durant and Towns-Green matchup well with Butler and Thompson cancelling each other out and Durant and Towns having the edge over their counterparts. However, if Steph is present, the Timberwolves have no real star apart from Jeff Teague to match up with Curry.
I suspect even if Steph can play in the first round, they will keep him fresh and ready for the second round with the long game in mind as the Golden State Warriors seek to attend to their fourth straight finals.
Expected Return: Next Season
Injury: Knee (Having surgery)
Kyrie Irving’s situation has transformed in the last 24 hours of writing this article. What was initially a three-week injury has now become an issue that will sideline Irving until the summer as he will have surgery on his knee. Questions can be raised about the necessity of the surgery as some have suggested the Celtics, already without Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart, are looking to make a run next year and therefore are playing the long game with Irving.
However, what this does to the Celtics is highly significant come playoff time. Even without Irving, the Celtics are one of, if not the best defensive team in the league. The issue for them in the playoffs will on offense without their leading scorer.
The result could see the Celtics fall at the first hurdle in the opening round. If the playoffs started today, they would face the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics match up well to Milwaukee with long-armed wing players to slow down Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, scoring on Milwaukee’s trap style defence may prove difficult.
The alternative first-round clash for the Celtics would be against the Washington Wizards. The match-up between these teams favour the Wizards and their superstar point guard John Wall who will return for the last few games of the regular season going into the playoffs. Without Irving, the Celtics have no point guards that can slow down Wall.
Expected Return: 14th April
Injury: Eye (Successful Surgery)
Joel Embiid has looked like he is playing a different sport to everyone else this season. His size and skillset have dwarfed opponents, but there’s still a question about his health. After a successful surgery on his eye, some have suggested he could return in two weeks to play in the first round of the post-season but an eye injury isn’t something to be rushed. Embiid is likely to have to wear a mask as well which may affect his game and may come back in the second round were the Sixers to make it that far.
Embiid has been an integral part of the Sixers success this season along with his partner in crime, Ben Simmons. Whilst Simmons is almost a lock for Rookie of the Year, Embiid has been showing signs he could be a dominant franchise of the now and the future.
Without Embiid this season, the Sixers are 7-7. However, they have won their last four games, all without him. If Embiid misses the first round, the Sixers may struggle. The defense can focus solely on Simmons and slow the game down to position their defense against his drives and playmaking ability.
Expected Return: How long have you got?
Where to start with the Kawhi Leonard saga? From being medically signed off to play but not playing to mixed messages sent through the media from coach to the player, the questions surrounding Kawhi Leonard haven’t changed or been answered. The turnaround time on his return is unknown, the reason this is the case is also unknown. However, from a team perspective, the Spurs, as ever, should never be overlooked or underestimated (as I may have done in a previous article on playoff predictions).
Leonard is undoubtedly a superstar when he is healthy and playing. He is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league and can be a weapon on offense. The questions surrounding his future at the San Antonio Spurs suggest he will not return this season or post-season. What will happen over summer is as much of a mystery. He is still tied down with the Spurs for one more season before a player option in the final year of his contract. If he wants to leave this summer, a trade would need to take place. How many teams wouldn’t mind Kawhi Leonard on their team? With recent events, only time will tell.
The Spurs have been surprisingly successful without their superstar. Other players have stepped up into significant roles and the Spurs play players no-one has ever heard of and makes them look like legitimate NBA players. They sit sixth in the West which means they would play Portland in the first round. However, the standings are so close, they could play any team from the fourth seed to the eighth seed. Their chances of progressing through the first round are good if they can avoid Golden State and Houston but their chances seem slim beyond that.
One could make the argument that injuries have been a defining factor of this NBA season. However, the show must go on and the playoffs not only wait for no-one, they also take no prisoners.
How far can the Warriors progress without Curry? How far can the Celtics progress without Irving? Have your say and comment below!
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